If you are injured on the job, you’ll need to take some immediate steps to ensure that you receive the maximum benefits you deserve. Pursuing a workers’ comp claim can sometimes be a long and frustrating process. But, if you act quickly and follow the right procedures, the process can be much more manageable.
Report the Injury to Your Employer
In nearly all states, you must report your workplace injury to your employer within a certain amount of time. If you fail to report your injury within the legally required time frame, you may lose your right to receive workers’ comp benefits. The deadline for reporting your injury differs from state to state. In many states, including Florida, Georgia, and California, you have 30 days to report your injury to your employer. In other states, you may have much less time to report your injury. For example, in Colorado, you have only four working days to notify your employer of your injury.
If your injury is one that develops slowly over time—such as a repetitive stress injury (like carpal tunnel) or an occupational disease (like black lung)—the clock typically begins to run once you know or should know that your injury or illness was caused by work. This is often the date that a doctor gave you a diagnosis for your condition or injury.
Regardless of the time frame in your state, it’s best to report an on-the-job injury to your employer as soon as possible. This may seem like obvious advice, but many people wait too long to report an injury, especially when they think the injury is fairly minor and may get better quickly on its own. If you delay in reporting your injury, your employer might question whether the accident really took place at work and might try to avoid paying your medical bills.
Most states require workers to give notice to their employers in writing. However, even if your state does not require written notice, it’s a good idea to do it anyway. That way, you’ll have proof that you reported your injury in a timely manner. Many employers have a standard form you can use to report workplace injuries. If your employer doesn’t have a form, write a letter to your supervisor outlining the time, place, and nature of your injury.
File a Workers’ Comp Claim
In most cases, notifying your employer of your injury isn’t enough to get workers’ comp benefits. You will also typically need to file a workers’ comp claim. In many states, your employer is required to provide you with the proper claim form once you report your injury. Your employer will then provide the completed form to its insurance carrier, which will notify the state workers’ compensation agency of your claim. In other states, you may need to file the claim form directly with your state’s workers’ compensation agency. (For more information, see How to File a Workers’ Compensation Claim.)
The paperwork necessary to file an official workers’ comp claim can also usually be found on your state’s workers’ compensation board website. The form will ask for the details of your employment and injury, and it will also provide instructions for submitting the form.
The time limits for filing a workers’ comp claim vary from state to state. In most states, you have at least one or two years to file your claim for benefits. For a traumatic injury, the clock will begin to run on the date of the accident. For a repetitive stress injury or an occupational illness, the clock will begin to run on the date that you knew of should have known that your injury or illness was work-related.
Keep Written Records
In addition to the formal paperwork mentioned above, it is helpful to keep notes about your workplace accident. Immediately after the accident, write down a detailed description of how the accident happened and whether there were any witnesses. If there were any witnesses, you may want to ask them to write down what they saw. That way, if there are any questions later about how or where your accident occurred, you will have the accounts of your colleagues to back you up.
You should also keep notes of the days that you had to miss from work due to your injury and the mileage you incurred in traveling to doctors’ appointments. You can use these records to verify that the insurance company has paid you the proper amounts in temporary disability payments and mileage reimbursement. (For more information on recordkeeping, see Records to Keep in Your Workers' Compensation Case.)